Three bowl utility sinks in stainless steel lend themselves to use in a variety of commercial settings. The style is extremely popular for food service applications as steel sinks offer maximum protection against food-borne illnesses by discouraging the growth of bacteria on their surfaces. Many localities' health and safety codes also require three-bowl styles as scraping, soaking and rinsing in three compartments is ideal for sanitation.
Decades ago, triple bowl sinks were rather standard; manufacturers produced one or two key styles with similar constructions, making price the deciding factor for most purchases. The popularity of stainless steel and the evolution of the notion that designs for commercial settings should be tailored to their unique needs gradually inspired manufacturers to produce new styles and offer new features for their sinks.
Nowadays, knowing that a three bowl stainless steel utility sink is the best fit for your business is just the start of the shopping process. You'll still have to make a number of decisions to choose the model that you ultimately purchase.
Because you likely have not purchased a sink in years or perhaps ever before, we’ve put together our Buyers' Guide to Three Bowl Utility Sinks. The guide focuses on each of the major features that separate sinks from one another, beginning with the most noticeable differences and proceeding into the subtleties that are often less obvious. By using this guide, you'll be able to quickly eliminate the least useful styles for your purposes and so you can focus on those best suited to your needs.
The quickest way to eliminate styles of triple bowl sinks that won't work for you is by finding those will not fit your space, so the best way to get started is to decide exactly what dimensions will be most useful to you.
Unless you're purchasing a sink for new construction or a complete rehabilitation of a commercial space, the location of your sink is likely predetermined. To simplify the shopping process, take a moment to measure your current sink, using the following steps:
- Using a tape measure, determine the distance along the front edge of your sink fixture. This measurement is the length and will be the first number listed in the specifications for sinks.
- Turn your tape measure and obtain the distance from the front corner to the parallel back corner. This measurement represents the width and will be the second number listed in the specifications for sinks.
- Lay the metal lip of the tape measure on the front left corner of the sink or have someone hold it in place. Extend the tape measure downward to the floor to obtain the height. This measurement will be the third number listed in the specifications for sinks.
New Construction and Extensive Remodeling
If you're putting your sink in an entirely new building or in a freshly remodeled space, consult your building plans and specifications. Usually, you'll find the dimensions suggested by the architect or interior designer included in these plans. Health and safety codes for your locality or industry may also dictate the minimum size for your sink fixtures. In instances where you cannot determine the dimensions on your own, consult your contractor for guidance on what size you should be shopping for.
Once you have eliminated the sizes of sinks that won't work in your space, you can reduce the number of selections even further by determining your style preferences. Sink manufacturers offer two main styles of three bowl utility fixtures:
- Corner triple bowl sinks are shaped like an "L" and designed to fit in a corner along two walls instead of along just one wall. This style is ideal for areas where space is limited and you may not otherwise be able to fit a three bowl fixture. Unfortunately, the design can make it difficult for more than one person to use the sink at a time. Also, depending on the dimensions, the bowl situated in the corner can be difficult to reach all the way into for someone with shorter arms.
Certification and Steel Type
Since most three bowl sinks are destined for food service businesses, certification is another criteria that is useful for narrowing down available models. Most health codes require businesses to use Type 304 food-grade stainless steel sinks. Generally, the type of steel relates to its composition or the blend of alloys used to make it. Type 304 steel contains iron and carbon with 16 percent chromium and either manganese or nickel. Also called austenistic steel, Type 304 is resistant to corrosion, while remaining safe to come in contact with food and items used to serve and prepare it.
Many health codes also require food service businesses to use fixtures approved by the National Sanitation Foundation, which was founded in 1944 to independently evaluate the safety of consumer products. The NSF examines sinks using a set of regulations meant to protect both the users of the sinks and anyone who is served in the facilities that use them.
Certification is granted only to those that meet the NSF's rigorous set of standards. When shopping for sinks, you'll see some labeled as "non-NSF," indicating that they do not have certification either because they do not meet the foundation's standards or because the manufacturer did not seek the approval. All sinks that do have NSF certification should be clearly marked as such to make spotting them easy.
Manufacturers offer certain style options to enhance the utility of triple bowl sinks, including:
Dish basins are extra bowls that sit off to the side of the three sink compartments. The basin is typically shallower than the trio of sink compartments and usually does not have a working drain to be attached to your plumbing. The primary purpose of the basin is to hold dirty dishes and cooking utensils until they are ready to be washed in order to keep the sink area tidy. Although built-in basins are convenient, some food service businesses prefer to have a separate soiled dish table away from their sinks closer to the exit to the dining room or front of the restaurant.
The drainboard is the stainless steel surface that extends away from one or both ends of a sink. Drainboards have a slight slope or rise and are designed to carry water back into the sink bowls. Having drainboards on your sink gives you a space to set equipment for air-drying and keeps liquid mess off the floors for added safety. Many sink models allow you to choose the perfect size of drainboards to accommodate your space with the standard lengths being: 18, 24, 30 and 36 inches.
Almost all stainless steel utility sinks have backsplashes, panels that extend above the sink bowls to protect the walls from water damage and splatters from cleaning products and residue from the items being washed; however, the dimensions for backsplashes do vary from model to model.
The height of the backsplash relates to the distance from the top of the sink to the top of the vertical portion of the backsplash. The taller the backsplash, the more of your wall is protected. The most common heights for backsplashes on three bowl sinks are 7 and 10 inches.
The return of the backsplash describes the distance from the start of the diagonal portion of the piece to the wall. The measurement determines how far the sink sits away from the wall; however, most sinks have standard, 2-inch returns.
Bowls and Compartments
Some manufacturers distinguish between compartments, mostly squared off open spaces in sinks that take up the entire space, and bowls, which are usually rounded. The primary difference between the two styles is how much space is available in your sink for washing items. Due to their rounded shapes, bowls typically hold less water than compartments and have more wasted space at the corners.
The amount of wasted space is measured by the radius of the bowls, which is equal to the distance from the rounded corner at the bottom to where the sink begins to have a straight edge. Typically, differences in the radius between sink models are less than an inch, but can be deciding the factor for your purchase if everything else about the models is identical. Remember that the smaller the radius, the more water the bowl will hold.
For both bowls and compartments, depth and dimensions have a greater impact on the utility of a sink than the radius. Like those of the entire sink, the dimensions of the bowls are listed first by their lengths and then by their widths. The depth is the measurement from the bottom of the compartment adjacent to the drain to the top and can be thought of as the height of the bowl. When comparing compartments, you'll need to determine the size of the items that the sink must be able to hold to ensure that the dimensions of the bowls are adequate.
Most three bowl stainless steel work sinks feature bowls that are uniform in size and arranged side by side in a straight line; however some manufacturers produce models with one smaller bowl situated on either end or flanked by the larger bowls. Another alternative is one standard square compartment situated next to two thin, rectangular compartments that are positioned one above the other. These special configurations are not ideal for most purposes, but can work well for some unique uses.